Saturday, September 14, 2013

Vegetarian Chili with sweet potato and pumpkin

I could say that fall is the time of year for chili, but I think anytime is chili season! This chili has lots of good fall flavor in it, and I have already made a couple pots this year even it is not officially autumn.  Chili is so wonderful to warm you up after a crisp fall day of hiking, various sport events or even raking leaves so have the ingredients ready because here come the cooler days of autumn!

Some wonderful friends and I got together to cook dinner that was vegetarian, gluten and dairy free (minus toppings). We had lots of fun and made this chili as well as a quinoa pilaf and gluten free corn muffins.

Here is the chili recipe. Like so many of my recipes, this one can be adapted and changed to fit your preferences! You could throw in some ground beef or chicken if you wanting meat, but this chili is so hearty and thick you will not miss the meat!

Denise’s Favorite Vegetarian chili

3 sweet potatoes, diced
1-1 ½ onion, chopped
3-4 Poblano peppers or Anaheim peppers (may substitute canned chilies in a pinch) roasted, peeled, diced

1 ½ -2 tsp. ancho chili pepper (or if you don’t have dried ancho, use an extra tsp. chili powder)
1 ½ -2 tsp. Chili powder
1-1 ½ tsp. cumin
1 tsp. or so sea salt
½ to 1 tsp. each- onion powder, garlic powder may use a clove of fresh garlic instead)
1-2TBSP brown sugar
1-2 tsp. adobe seasoning, optional (salt, garlic, onion, cumin, black pepper, chipotle, lemon peel blend) You could just use more of all the spices if you don’t have adobe seasoning
For extra spice you may add --1-2 tsp. canned chipotle chili in adobe sauce, chopped (wear gloves! ) if you like it hot OR 1 tsp. chipotle pepper spice Or for flavor without added heat- 1 tsp. smoked paprika

1 bell pepper red or green, diced
3 small zucchinis or yellow squash, any summer squash
Other optional veggies—1 – 1/12 cups roasted corn, sliced carrot, green beans, cauliflower, chopped tomatillos, diced red potatoes,  diced butternut squash (add potatoes or squash with sweet potatoes) or whatever you would like to try!

2-4   cups vegetable broth (start with 2 and add more broth as needed)  
1 can diced tomato, 15 oz or so, fire roasted, organic preferred  
1 can crushed tomatoes,15 oz or so, fire roasted, organic preferred
1-1 ½ cups pumpkin puree, about 1/2- 2/3 of a 15 oz. can pumpkin (Or may substitute 1 small can tomato paste OR use both pumpkin and tomato paste)
½ to 1 cup water, as needed to thin

1 to 2 cans beans, prefer 1 can of kidney beans and one of black beans but any beans are fine
1-2 TBSP cocoa powder
1 TBSP unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate, optional
Salt and pepper to taste, more ancho or chili powder if needed

Toppings—cheese, sour cream, green onions, cilantro, tortilla chips, corn bread

In a wide deep pan, add oil and heat to medium-high and add evenly diced sweet potatoes in a single layer. If they cannot all fit, do this in two batches. Sauté over medium heat stirring often. After about 5 minutes, lower heat to medium-low and add diced onions. Cook on low for about 20 minutes until a bit caramelized and brown and sweet potatoes are starting to soften.  Note: Add any hard vegetables like butternuts squash, potatoes or carrots at this time or cook ahead of time.

Roast peppers --Turn oven on broil and place washed, slightly wet peppers onto foil lined pan under broiler. Broil until skin is charred and blackened on one side and then turn until all is charred.  Once skin is charred throughout, remove from oven and fold foil over the peppers and seal up foil to let peppers steam. Let it cool about 10 minutes, then open foil and use gloves or carefully remove stem, seeds and membrane and skin. Using running water helps. Wash hands carefully or discard gloves. Chop roasted pepper and add to onion, sweet potato mixture.

To the pot, Add spices, sugar and salt and continue to cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Remember you can always add more spice later so go easy! I would skip the canned chipotle and some of the dried chili pepper if there are sensitive palates eating this. You could allow people to add hot sauce to spice it up at the end. It will taste a little spicier the next day.

Turn pot to low heat and stir in summer squash, bell peppers, roasted corn and any softer vegetables you are using and sauté for another minute or two.

Add tomatoes, broth, pumpkin puree, beans, cocoa, and optional chocolate and gently stir well. Simmer on low for about 25-35 minutes and gently stirring until everything is nicely cooked through and thick. Taste and add more salt or spice. If it is too spicy, add a little more broth and pumpkin and perhaps a tiny bit more brown sugar.

This chili is wonderful topped with a bit of sour cream, cheese, green onions and cilantro, Serve with corn bread. If you have leftovers you could serve it over cooked pasta such as macaroni or spaghetti noodles.



Wednesday, September 11, 2013


   Making pesto more intuitive and flexible than preparing most other recipes. You don’t really need a recipe if you make it often. It is kind of like biscuit baking in the south. It is made with a few key ingredients which can be adjusted or varied. Yet I have had pesto I was not all that fond of and pesto that I loved. The pesto I made last night was the latter; it possessed a flavorful, fresh taste  with a kick of garlic that was delicious alone and was wonderful in a few recipes I made using it. So I want to remember just what I did this time.

I am not a pesto expert. I really began to enjoy pesto when I visited Italy and tasted fresh pesto slathered on bread with a sweet ripe tomato sliced on top. Even with that sublime experience, I still have not made pesto all that often. I usually  only make it a couple times a year or so, when my summer basil is winding down and sprouting more buds than leaves. I am not sure why I don't buy basil from a green house in the winter and brighten a dreary winter day with the fresh luxurious taste of pesto! Perhaps this will be my year of pesto!

Pesto is basically basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with a pinch of salt blended together in a food processor or blender.  Basil is most often used but parsley, mint, other greens can all be included. I might try a mix soon since all of my herbs need to get used up before autumn is upon us, which despite the 90 F temps here will be sooner than I imagine!  You can also try different nuts.  You could skip the cheese for a dairy free/ vegan version, but I would add a little more salt and maybe some red or black pepper for interest. You could use less oil and substitute just a little water. As I said, pesto is flexible and adaptable!! I will give you some idea of the mix I put together last night but it is really just a springboard for you to try out your own version! Let me know if you find any interesting additions!!

   While pesto is probably best freshly made, this batch stayed fresh several days and it should last around a week in the refrigerator well sealed, with a thin veneer of olive oil over it and a piece of plastic wrap over the olive oil then another airtight seal over that. I sometimes freeze pesto in an ice cube try then tightly seal the pesto cubes up and keep frozen until needed over a few months.

A word on some of the ingredients

    I am still figuring out how to find good olive oil after reading up on the lack of purity of much of the olive oil on our store shelves. It has really made me distrust the labeling on olive oil. I now try to buy certified California extra virgin olive oil but I am still trying to figure out who to trust and which oils to buy, especially the ones that are imported. This I do know-olive oil should not taste rancid or have that bad after-taste. Real olive oil is not bought in large bargain batches, it will go bad! Look for quality and fresh taste sold in a darkened bottle preferably with some kind of certification of authenticity. Buy only what you can use up in a couple months after opening. Also, look for olive oil with a sell by date closer to two years or a recent harvest date as it is better when fresh.

   When looking for cheese for pesto, I do not buy the bargain parmesan plastic...err, I mean cheese. Parmigiano reggiano cheese is authentic, from a particular region of Italy. It does cost a little more but the taste is more than worth it!! Get good cheese to use in your pesto! It should not be waxy or tasteless.

   Pine nuts are expensive but you don’t use a large amount. I think they taste wonderful in pesto! But try other nuts if the cost of pine nuts is prohibitive.

   I used a generous portion of garlic in this pesto and it was a pronounced flavor in it but it was sooo good. I think less garlic is perhaps more authentic but don’t be afraid to make this the way you would like.


4 ½ -6 cups basil leaves, loosely packed
1/3 cup pine nuts, ( for a combination of nuts such as walnuts or almonds along with pine nuts, use up to ½ cup )
1/3-1/2 cup grated
, (or other hard cheese like pecorino)
1-3 garlic cloves, crushed (I used 3 but it makes for a pronounced garlic kick, which I love!)
¼-1/2  teaspoon salt
Splash of lime or lemon juice, highly optional
1/4-1/2 cup extra-virgin high quality olive oil (it should not have a heavily bitter or rancid taste, but be light, fruity or peppery and fresh)

 Using a food processor or blender, begin with about half the basil leaves, pine nuts, cheese, garlic, and salt and pulse so that everything is finely chopped. Add in the rest of the basil leaves and process until everything is finely chopped, scrapping down the sides as needed. Now, open the top to pour the olive oil in as it is processing, being careful that it does not splash out of the top. Process or blend just a few seconds more until pesto is uniform and emulsified.

      So once you have pesto, how do you use it? I love it on bread or pasta. Baguette slices could be toasted with a thin brush of olive oil and then a dollop of pesto with a dusting of Parmigiano broiled for just a moment, perhaps adorned with a slice of tomato.
Pesto is wonderful on chicken or fish that is grilled, roasted, broiled or baked. It is great on veggies or pizza and in a white bean dip. You could make pesto pinwheels or pesto cheese straws for an appetizer.